Gilmore Girls fans were obviously thrilled when they learned Amazon had selected Amy Sherman-Palladino's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to be a part of their spring pilot slate. But while there are obvious allusions to the Gilmore Girls formula, Mrs. Maisel is a new beast all unto itself.
Set in the 1950s, the pilot stars House of Cards' Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam "Midge" Maisel, a proper, Upper West Side Jewish housewife who has had her entire life planned out since she was a child. By day, she takes care of her two children and prepares to host the perfect Yom Kippur, and by night she supports her husband Joel (Michael Zegan) as he performs stand-up at dingy comedy clubs downtown. But after bombing one night, Joel reveals he's decided to give up comedy and leave Midge for his secretary. Devastated, wasted off wine and on an empty stomach (it is Yom Kippur, after all), Midge heads back down to the comedy club where she accidentally discovers her own knack for stand-up and decides to pursue her newly discovered dream of becoming one of the first female comedians.
Brosnahan carries the pilot almost entirely on her back, delivering Sherman-Palladino's signature quick-worded, long-winded dialogue with an ease that would make Lorelai Gilmore proud. And after years of creating brilliant back-and-forth banter that made the Gilmores much like characters in a '50s screwball comedy, Sherman-Palladino seems to have made the perfect choice with a midcentury period piece. Gilmore fans will also be happy to see Alex Borstein, who appeared as both Drella and Miss Celine in the WB-turned-CW-turned Netflix series, in a major supporting role as Suzie, a brusque bartender who decides to manage Midge after seeing her fearless first act.
But not all of Mrs. Maisel's Gilmore connections are pulled off so successfully. Within the first two minutes, Midge makes the type of fat joke that was all too common on Gilmore Girls (even in the 2016 Netflix revival) when she reflects on how happy she was that her college roommate was "friendly and fat, because I had someone to eat with who won't steal my boyfriend." It's the kind of joke that you've probably forgiven when re-watching the original run of Gilmore Girls, excusing Sherman-Palladino's body-shaming humor as a symptom of a different era when — let's be real — these types of jokes have never been acceptable, nor should they ever be. And yet, despite facing criticism for fat-shaming jokes in the past, Sherman-Palladino continues to use them for cheap punch lines that do nothing but drag the integrity of her story down.
And while the citizens of Gilmore's Stars Hollow and even Bunheads' Paradise, California may have been quirky to the point of near-caricatures, they all managed to feel like real people — something which is sadly lacking in Mrs. Maisel. Rectify's Luke Kirby's portrayal of Lenny Bruce seems more like an impression than an embodiment of the iconic comedian. But it's Midge's parents (played by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle) who are the greatest missed opportunity of them all.
Much like Lorelai Gilmore, Midge comes from an extremely wealthy family who is suffocatingly critical, emotionally disconnected from their daughter's needs and terribly mean to their housekeepers. However, unlike Emily and Richard Gilmore, Midge's parents demonstrate none of the warmth and humor that made Gilmore Girls fans continuously root for and empathize with Lorelai's parents, even at their cruelest points. It's entirely likely that if Amazon decides to move forward with Mrs. Maisel, we'll see Abe and Rose Weinberg develop into fuller, more tangible characters, but as they stand in the pilot, Midge's parents often feel like nothing more than stilted Jewish clichés.
And did we mention that this show is really Jewish? From the language they use to the food they cook to the important role Judaism — both the religious rituals and the spiritual themes — play in Midge's life and in the show's plot, it's delightfully refreshing to see a show that is so unapologetically Jewish. Because while there has been an increase in shows in which Judaism plays a prominent role in recent years (with Transparent and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend leading the charge), they are still a rarity on TV — unlike shows about aspiring comedians, which often feel like a dime a dozen these days.
All in all, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's pilot is a mixed bag. Brosnahan's performance alone is good enough to warrant watching the pilot, and Gilmore Girls fans will be happy to see Sherman-Palladino's sharp writing is still in full effect. But for those looking for another sunny, eccentric comedy-drama in the veins of Gilmore Girls — or even Bunheads — they will be sorely disappointed. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel lacks the intricate world-building and comfort quality that has defined much of Sherman-Palladino's previous work, but there is enough of a unique spark to the project to warrant a watch.